One of the outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the massive technological shift the world had to overcome in order to continue functioning, which will most likely continue in a post-Pandemic world.
In the classroom, we’ve seen the transformative nature technology has had on education. For those of us in settings that are privileged enough to have access to internet connection, and devices for all, being away from the classroom did not mean an end to education (on balance, withstanding the trauma of Pandemic survival). Thinking that the physical space you are in is no longer an impediment to education has been transformative. Born out of a tragic circumstance, bridging this physical divide through technology has the potential to bring the world closer than ever before.
This post examines how the use of the padlet platform and imovie were used to bring students together from New Jersey to Arkansas and again from New Jersey to Lebanon. The details of the actual assignment can be found in the PDF linked below.
Impact of Student Exchanges
As an educator I try to create experiences for my students to make the lesson as tangible as possible. This requires creativity, thought and planning. The amount of ingenuity required was exasperated by the pandemic. However, what was phenomenal was the amount of learning that occurred simply by having students from different regions in the United States interact with one another. Using Padlet, students responded to the question: “how is your geographic location influencing your experience with the pandemic and the 2020 election?” Needless to say, states like New Jersey and Arkansas had very different approaches to the pandemic. Students in New Jersey had been completely virtual at that point in the school year and in Arkansas students were in school with the option of virtual learning. This difference alone led to conversations about how the pandemic hit various regions of the nation differently (our Northern New Jersey region was at the epicenter of the outbreak), as well as conversations around internet accessibility (some regions in Arkansas simply do not have broadband capability for virtual learning).
Students exchanged their experiences of living through a pandemic, in doing so, they were able to see beyond “red” and “blue” state differences. At the time of the exchange, it was peak 20202 Presidential election season and students had some honest exchanges on their political views as well. Students were learning to communicate and exchange complex ideas. The skills we want them to learn when reading a book, they were getting with this engaging interaction. Once the padlet was complete, students submitted clips of their lives here in New Jersey, we compiled it (with the help of a tech savvy junior, who used iMovie to piece together everyone’s images and video clips and created a 4 minute video clip).
New Jersey to Lebanon
If interacting with students from Arkansas was an experience for our suburban kids, you can only imagine the impact engaging with students from Lebanon had on this group of high school juniors. Students immediately could tell the massive difference. The instructions were simple and the exchanges were deep, building empathy across borders.
Students quickly began sharing their stories, from pandemic lockdown to revolution and hyperinflation. It was definitely an eye-opening exchange for many of our students.
This is only a snippet of the exchanges. Students talked about the toll on their mental health the pandemic was having, being isolated from family and friends. The uncertainty of what was to come was also palpable amongst the exchanges, particularly for those students living in Lebanon who were also facing an catastrophic economic and political situation. In the debriefing with my own students this sparked conversations around democracy, the role of government in the lives of ordinary citizens. American students also overwhelmingly noted they were fortunate to be able to lockdown safely in their own homes without the worry of a failed political system.
Simple Tools, Important Exchanges
The tools used in this process were very simple. Padlet was ideal for us because of the time difference with both students in Arkansas and Lebanon. Students responded to an initial question but the responses encapsulated multiple facets of their lives. Students were writing and thinking about the world in a way they hadn’t before, I knew this was an impactful experience even via Zoom! I’m hoping to find more partner classrooms for the coming school year, and integrating Flipgrid (a very user-friendly video platform) students can use to create videos for their exchanges.
In essence, this was a rewarding experience all around. Students were engaged and eager to share their experiences. They tinkered with new tech platforms. This experience also allowed them to process their own pandemic situation and see the world through someone else’s eyes as well.